Sugar Bears aim for breakthrough

Posted: November 8, 2017 at 2:24 a.m.

Sandra Rushing has led the Central Arkansas women’s basketball team to its only two Division I NCAA Tournament appearances since becoming eligible to do so in 2011, but UCA lost in the first round both times. Rushing said the Sugar Bears are ready to take the next step.

After two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, Sandra Rushing is reaching for the next milestone with the University of Central Arkansas women's basketball program.

The sixth-year coach has led the Sugar Bears to their only two NCAA Tournament appearances since it became a Division I program in 2011, but UCA lost in the first round both times.

UCA women’s schedule

Date;Opponent;Time

Nov. 10;Hendrix;6 p.m.

Nov. 14;at Baylor;7 p.m.

Nov. 20;Alcorn State;6 p.m.

Nov. 28;Crowleys Ridge;6 p.m.

Nov. 30;at Tennessee;6 p.m.

Dec. 4;Williams Baptist;6 p.m.

Dec. 7;Central Baptist;6 p.m.

Dec. 9;at Texas A&M;1 p.m.

Dec. 16;at South Alabama;1:05 p.m.

Dec. 20-21;Florida International Tournament;TBA

Dec. 28;at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi;1 p.m.

Dec. 31;Southeastern Louisiana*;1 p.m.

Jan. 3;Sam Houston State*;7 p.m.

Jan. 6;Lamar*;1 p.m.

Jan. 10;at Incarnate Word*;6 p.m.

Jan. 13;at Nicholls State*;1 p.m.

Jan. 17;New Orleans*;7 p.m.

Jan. 20;Abilene Christian*;1 p.m.

Jan. 24;at Stephen F. Austin*;7 p.m.

Jan. 27;at Northwestern State*;1 p.m.

Feb. 3;at Southeastern Louisiana*;2 p.m.

Feb. 7;Houston Baptist*;7 p.m.

Feb. 14;at McNeese State*;6:30 p.m.

Feb. 17;Nicholls State*;1 p.m.

Feb. 21;Stephen F. Austin*;7 p.m.

Feb. 24;at Abilene Christian*;2 p.m.

Feb. 28;at Sam Houston State*;6:30 p.m.

March 3;Northwestern State*;1 p.m.

*Southland game

UCA 2017-18 women’s basketball roster

NO.;NAME;POS.;CL.;HT.

2;Kamry Orr;G;Jr.:5-6

4;Taylor Sells;G;So.;5-7

5;Maddie Goodner;G;So.;5-6

10;Antonija Bozic;G;Jr.;5-10

11;Mekaylan Hicks;F;Fr.;6-0

13;Savannah Lowe;G;Fr.;5-8

15;Tieraney Paylor;F;Jr.;5-10

20;Kierra Jordan;C;Sr.;6-1

21;Angel Williams;G;Sr.;5-6

23;Taylor Baudoin;F;Sr.;6-0

24;Alanie Fisher;G;Jr.;5-9

33;Alexyse Thomas;C;Jr.;6-3

42;Hannah Langhi;C;Fr.;6-2

No women's team from Arkansas has won an NCAA Tournament game since 2015, when both the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock reached the second round.

"That's where we want to be," Rushing said. "Eventually we want to win that game."

UCA was a No. 14 seed when it lost 87-60 to No. 3 seed Louisville in 2016, and the team was also a No. 14 seed when it lost 78-50 to No. 3 seed Texas in 2017.

Although they never led against Texas, the Sugar Bears led Louisville 30-29 with 7:20 left in the second quarter before Louisville went on to a 17-point halftime lead.

"The previous year, we competed early," Rushing said. "When we played Texas, we didn't come out and compete. And I had a better team. I think the bigs really hurt us. Not just their size, but their length hurt us."

Texas' average height (6-0) was 3 inches taller than UCA's height (5-9), which contributed to a 55-23 rebounding advantage and 18 second-chance points for the Longhorns.

Last season, UCA didn't have a player taller than 6-1, but now the Sugar Bears have two players over that height, including 6-2 freshman center Hannah Langhi, who averaged 18.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game at Marshall County (Ky.) High School.

Langhi joins a team that lost three of its top five scorers, including two-time Southland Conference first-team guard Maggie Proffitt (15.6 points per game).

Senior center Kierra Jordan (13.4 ppg) and senior forward Taylor Baudoin (11.9 ppg) return, and both were named to the All-Southland preseason second team.

"We had such a veteran team last year," said Rushing, who has eight new players on her roster. "I'm excited to see how this young team is going to develop. That's coaching, and I love coaching. And our preseason has been very slow because of all the teaching."

Most of the teaching, Rushing said, revolves around defense.

UCA has led the Southland in scoring defense in four out of the past five seasons. Rushing said this year's team wasn't "ready defensively yet" after it had a scrimmage that she "wasn't too happy with."

"None of them have been ready this time of year, though," she said. "We just need to find a way to win, then we can correct it."

To return to the NCAA Tournament, UCA most likely will need to earn an automatic bid by winning the Southland Conference Tournament.

The Southland has not received an at-large bid since 1997, when Stephen F. Austin (27-4, 16-0) was awarded a No. 7 seed after it lost the conference championship game to Texas State (17-11, 11-5), which received a No. 14 seed.

This season, UCA was picked second in the Southland's preseason poll.

"I'd pick us seventh right now," Rushing said. "My expectations are to win it. Is this team capable? Absolutely. But we have a long way to go, and it's only November."

Sports on 11/08/2017